“Travelling With Your Phone This Summer”

In response to a comment on the video “Travelling With Your Phone This Summer”

The COMMENT was:
“Great! could you also talk about cell phone usage abroad and especially electrical converters and charging? I travel or support those who do and it gets dicey. The converter and adapter throws people, changing sims, which carrier and costs. I usually advise skype but that’s not for everyone. Explaining GSM, CDMA and whatever the Japan uses and my audience just turns glassy eyed.  Thanks! Keep up the good work.”

So how do you know if you have a GSM or CDMA phone?
  • The key feature is the SIM card. If you have one, your smartphone is likely a GSM phone, if it does not, your mobile phone is likely a CDMA phone.
  • According to GSM Association (2010) aproximately 80 % of global market uses GSM technology. It is used in over 212 countries and territories, however, since not all  countries use the same frequency you may still need to check with your Cellular Carrier Customer Service to ensure compatibility.
  • CDMA is less popular, used in 35 international countries and territories, primarily the US, Canada, and parts of Asia.  Sprint, Virgin Mobile and Verizon Wireless use CDMA. BELL Mobility and TELUS Mobility also use this technology, although not exclusively.  With some carriers, World or Global Mobile phones exist. They have an international GSM SIM card in it, and, in theory, if activated correctly can jump onto a GSM network if no CDMA network is available.
  • If you are travelling to Japan or parts of Korea, they use a technology that is neither CDMA or GSM and generally your GSM phone will not work.  If you are travelling there, the best option is to  rent a mobile device with one of the carriers in that country, like Softbank or DOcomo Japan. The easiest way is to arrange the mobile device rental before you leave and pick up the ready to use smartphone at the airport when you arrive.  Some CDMA phones and 3G phones can roam in Japan, however, you should check with your cellular customer service provider before you leave.
  • Changing SIMs requires an unlocked phone. Some mobile carriers will unlock your phones for you when you meet certain conditions, or you can send it into a service center and have them unlocked there. Depending on where you are travelling, you can sometimes buy a SIM card for the country you are travelling in.  It is often cheapest to buy the SIM from an actual mobile store, when you arrive, however, this depends very much on the country, as not  all carriers allow tourists to activate any kind of SIM without large amounts of identification, if at all.  There are  places online that you can buy international SIM cards.
Keep in mind that because you are roaming on a different network, your provider cannot guarantee that your phone will roam!

  • Connecting your phone for charging while travelling can also pose a problem as most countries adhere to differing electrical standards, and therefore do not necessarily accept a typical North American style plug.  Be sure to check the required plug for your destination, or ensure that you have an international adapter which can convert to many differing plug configurations. (See earlier post – Adapting your Device – International Travel)  These can be bought from many electronics stores, and are very reasonably priced.
  • Contacting your carrier before travelling is always a smart decision as technologies are constantly changing, and as always making sure you are being offered the best cost options for usage while abroad can prevent those ugly surprises when you get back.
The Reply above was provided by Melissa Harlow & Carol Strabbing, and we invite you to come back again or to become a regular visitor to our posts for more tips and tricks with regards to your mobile device(s), and mobile device management.
Who knows … We may provide you with a tip or two that could save you a ton of time and save you a ton of money.  Please let us know if we do!


  1. “Travelling With Your Phone This Summer” http://ow.ly/5sWHD